The Three Brothers Mural

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A tribute to our historical past is located on the side of the remax building.

The Three Brothers, a Boyne City lumber ship named for brothers William H., James, and Thomas White, , was beached and broke apart on South Manitou Island during a storm on Sept. 27, 1911.

It was noisy along the lakeshore in Boyne City on Monday, Sept. 25, 1911. Sawmill workers were busy cutting logs into boards at the four mills located along the shore. The piles of lumber that obscured the lake along Lake Street during the summer were dwindling as the sawmill season was drawing to a close and the lumber was being shipped, yet the smoke from the mills still made it hard to see Pine Lake (Lake Charlevoix) or ships coming to dock.

On this day residents could hear the dockwallopers, dressed in heavy leather aprons and hand guards to protect against slivers, slapping boards into place on the Three Brothers at the Water Street dock. The dockwallopers were a notorious lot. They were hard workers and heavy drinkers. They were paid more than any workers employed in the lumbering business, probably because they were unionized. Many of them boarded in rooming houses on the east side of Lake Street between Water and River Streets. They slaked their thirst at their favorite place – the Commercial House. They paid a nickel for a beer and a dime for a whiskey. Naturally, they sometimes visited the Pine Lake House, the Garland House, Cutter’s Saloon and the other seven saloons in Boyne.

It took about a day and a half to load the hardwood that reached about 18 feet above the deck of the Three Brothers, so they finished the job on Tuesday. The late George Everest worked in the mills. During an interview on Feb. ID, 1975, he mentioned that Captain Christopher was notorious for overloading the Three Brothers. One can only wonder whether she was recklessly overloaded on this day.

Early the next morning, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 1911, Captain Sam Christopher and his crew of 13 sailors boarded the vessel. The firemen or “coal passers” stoked the fire box boiler with coal from the coal bunkers and built up a head of steam. At the controls, Captain Christopher slowly backed the 162-foot-Iong Three Brothers out from the Water Street dock into Pine Lake, turned the vessel and pointed its prow toward Charlevoix. The 23-year-old, 280-horsepower Steeple Company engine came to life, laboring to propel the lumber hooker through a steady wind westward to Charlevoix. Captain Christopher guided the vessel through the railroad bridge that separated Pine Lake from Round Lake in Charlevoix, and then, after getting the attention of bridge tender Elmer Johnson, who opened the bridge, he maneuvered the 30-foot-wide ship on a steady course through Charlevoix’s second swing bridge and down the Pine River Channel into Lake Michigan.

As he entered Lake Michigan, Captain Christopher encountered a heavy sea. He ordered the firemen to build up a head of steam to power the 23-year-old ship through the turbulent waters. He must have had some concerns about his ship. The lumber barge was getting old and probably overloaded and just several weeks before, the Three Brothers collided with a rock in the Georgian Bay. She had a bustled hull, basically a second hull built over the original to prolong the life of the ship.

As Captain Christopher headed for Chicago to deliver his load of lumber, the seas mounted. Close to the anchored North Manitou lighthouse ship, the Three Brothers sprang a leak somewhere in her oak-planked hull and began taking on water. It was a desperate battle in a sinking ship.

The water reached the height of around eight feet in the hold covering the coal bunkers. More water poured into the hold than the pumps could handle. With his ship foundering Captain Christopher decided that his only recourse was to run the Three Brothers ashore on South Manitou Island. With as much steam as it had, the Three Brothers plowed ashore a couple of hundred yards east of the lifesaving station. The impact split the bow open and the pilothouse was dislodged. Miraculously, none of the crew were killed as the $4,200 load of boards jolted every which way, spilling into the lake. One of the watches at the lifesaving station spotted the disaster, and informed Captain Kent – who was in charge of the South Manitou Lifesaving Station. He immediately dispatched a crew to rescue Christopher and his 13 crew members. The crew hurriedly made their way to the bow and evacuated the Three Brothers, leaving behind their personal effects. A message was sent to the wrecking tug, Favorite, which upon arrival couldn’t do anything to assist the grounded ship. Apparently the crew did salvage most of the lumber scattered along the beach. On Oct. 4, the Three Brothers was declared a total loss for insurance purposes and abandoned. The Favorite returned the crew to the mainland.

The Three Brothers gradually settled in the water and over the years a sand bar covered her up. For 85 years her burial ground was known as Sandy Point. In recent decades researchers had an idea about where the ship was buried, but had no physical proof. On April 30, 1996, two Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes National Lakeshore Park employees journeyed to South Manitou to open the park and discovered that Sandy Point had been washed away and the Three Brothers lay exposed. There was no mistake about the identity because divers could read the “Three Brothers of Buffalo” painted on the stem. Since the discovery, the Three Brothers has been a diving Mecca. The wreck lies in about 15 to 50 feet of water. In 1996, more than 1,000 divers explored its remains, making it the most popular wreck in Michigan.

Many of the prominent Great Lakes researchers are fascinated by the opportunity to study the Three Brothers. Many articles regarding her have been written. Only one article has appeared in the local newspaper informing Boyne residents of the historical disaster and discovery of the Three Brothers almost eight years ago. The article, published in The Citizen on Sept. 30, 1989 was about the shipwrecked Three Brothers and George Hutzler, who was born and grew up on South Manitou Island, where his father was the lighthouse keeper. Unfortunately, the Three Brothers has been treated very badly. The ship has been plundered and dragging anchors have damaged the fragile superstructure. According to Brendon Baillod, a Great Lakes researcher, “Worse yet, the fire hose nozzles, ornately carved pillars and brass fittings on the steam engine were stolen along with many personal items left by the crew.” The Citizen reported that “the ship’s name board is displayed at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park maritime museum in Glen Haven.” If you want to see a piece of the Three Brothers donated by George Hutzler, please visit the Boyne City Museum. Mr. Hutzler found it on the beach while living on South Manitou Island many years ago.

The Three Brothers’ home base was Boyne City. Hundreds of lumberjacks worked in the woods to cut down the trees. Many railroad workers used the McGiffert steam loaders to pile logs on the Russell logging cars, which carried the logs to mills in Boyne City. The mill workers cut the logs into boards and the dockwallopers loaded seasoned boards. The whole town watched the Three Brothers leave many times for Tonawanda, New York, and other ports. It was Boyne City’s ship and the people were proud of her endeavors!

The Three Brothers was owned by the captain of Boyne City’s lumbering industry, W. H. White, and his brothers, James and Thomas. William H. White was born in Owen Sound, Ontario, in 1859. In 1881, White was in East Jordan managing a sawmill when the business failed. White was out $600 in wages, but he obtained $450 in merchandise as payment for his earnings and, in January of 1883, he shipped his load of goods on a sleigh over four feet of snow to Boyne City. White had no money when he arrived in Boyne. According to the late Art Spelts, a longtime resident of Boyne City, he borrowed $2 for his room and board for a couple days. Within a few years, this self-made man became a dominant force in Boyne’s economic life and remained so for 40 years. He, along with his brothers, owned or invested in the mills, the railroad, the lumber camps, other wood related industries and banking interests.

When the lumber baron died in 1933, he was not as wealthy as he once was because the lumbering period ended in the 1920s; he made poor investments in the west; and the B.C.G.&A. Railroad to Alpena failed as a business venture. He was, nevertheless, a man driven by a capitalistic vision that through hard work and ambition a man could accumulate wealth and leave his mark on the pages of history.

Those who worked for White considered him a self-made man, sometimes sharp and ruthless in dealing with people, and not always liked. But, as a family man, he was loved and stood as the pillar of the White family.

Contribution by local historian, Bob Morgridge